With the marine industry continuously evolving, the demand for more sophisticated marine equipment is on the rise. Also, there is a lot of focus on the high performance of the equipment and systems. For reliable performance, high-quality connectors become essential. With the advancement in the marine and naval systems, sub-sea systems have gained importance. And with it, comes the need for underwater connectivity solutions that are reliable and durable.Marine Systems: Above the water level.
Marine applications are very susceptible to harsh environmental conditions. Water ingress is a major threat to connectivity solutions in these applications. Also, the connectors are vulnerable to corrosion. Hence, robust connectivity solutions that are water-sealed are needed.
Even for the systems that are above the water, reliable connectivity is a must. Deck lighting systems and boating equipment, unmanned surface vehicles, etc. need connectors that might not be submerged in water, but still be exposed to corrosion and water ingress.
Marine Systems: Under the sea.
The underwater marine applications such as diving equipment, subsea ROV (Remote Operating Vehicles), depth loggers, etc. need even more advanced connectivity. The connectors being submerged in water, face the challenge of exposure to high pressure, saltwater ingress, and harsh temperatures.
Subsea environments are being explored today in more detail than ever before. The systems seek to go deeper under the sea and for longer durations. Thus, the connectors are expected to be not just sealed against water ingress, but also need to have longer life cycles and be easy to maintain.
Underwater connectors were first used back in the 1950s. Power connectors were needed for SONAR and that is how sub-sea connectors were used. But the marine systems have come a long way from just using SONARs. Today, we have complex SONAR systems as well as wave energy converters and other sophisticated equipment such as Permanent Reservoir Monitoring (PRM) systems. To keep up with these developments, underwater connectors have also evolved a lot.
Today, there are several underwater connector ranges available. They make connectivity more efficient and reliable and also make it easier to manage large cable assemblies and facilitate modularization of complex systems. The major challenge in the area of underwater connectors lies in selecting the materials with which the connectors are made so that they are resistant to corrosion. Easy installation and maintenance come a close second.
Recent trends in underwater connectors manufacturing.
There is a lot of innovation in the area of underwater connectors due to the growing demand. This demand fuels production of connectors that are is influenced by new innovations in the marine systems. For example, with fiber optic cables replacing copper wires in many systems, connectors are also being produced to suit this change.
For underwater connectors, rubber moulded connectors are quite common. But manufacturers are also producing connectors with inductive coupling to get efficient data transfer. While these connectors are good for data transfer, the fact that they can be used only when power is low is a limitation. Rigid-shell underwater connectors are quite popular since they provide great stability. However, they are prone to high corrosion. Also, during operations, the pressure between the inner and outer shell is different, making these connectors susceptible to breakage.
With the RoHS (Restriction on Hazardous Substances) rules being enforced more strongly, manufacturers are looking at producing connectors that are made from lead-free materials and are compliant with the standards for safety. With the innovation in the industry for marine connectors, there has been a significant improvement in the testing capabilities, too. Large cable assemblies can be continuously tested for hours together to ensure the reliability of the connectors before they are launched in the market.
The industry for manufacturing connectors suitable for the marine and naval applications continues to evolve. Bulgin is a leading manufacturer of robust marine connectors that are suitable for both underwater applications and applications above the water level.